It’s Time to Look Within

As we enter into this new year, it appears that we will be dealing with many entities we have not known before now. Since we have not experienced these things before, I for one, feel trepidation, anxiety, and a certain hesitation at how we will move forward in these next years. It feels as though much that I consider to be good could soon be undone.

I hope I will be pleasantly surprised…but if I am not, I need to make the following assessment. What is most important to me? What do I not want to lose? What do I value? How do I measure that value? We here in America have been blessed with wealth (as compared with other countries), a reasonable amount of security, the freedom to say what we think, the freedom to worship as we choose. From recent rhetoric we have heard, one has to wonder if those things will be threatened in the years to come? There is no other country that I especially want to live in. But I want those things that I have come to take for granted. Certainly, there will always be differences between Republicans, Democrats, and members of other smaller parties. Nevertheless, basic assumptions have been made by all parties about how we choose to live in this country. I, for one, feel that those basic qualities our country has struggled so long to maintain now hang in the balance.

Americans, I implore you to take a very close look at your values, your hopes, your dreams – for yourself and for generations to come. If, after serious soul searching, introspectively determining that which you alone treasure, I urge you to stand up for those beliefs. Be strong, be either proud or dismayed with your country, but be firm. Move forward prayerfully in this New Year of 2017, in peace and with resolve, with confidence, and with hope.

After the Vote

I feel very sad today. For the record numbers that voted in this election, I am glad and proud. Still, I am sad. I understand that many, many people are tired of inequities and want change.

Election results this morning prompted me to look at Canadian laws regarding immigration. Escape was, indeed, about my first thought.

I suppose, however, that the nominee deserves a chance. For as much difficulty I have finding any reason to respect the man, I concede that he should be given a chance. I think America has chosen unwisely. Sadly, our country may pay for this error in ways we cannot even now conceive. Still, America was built by people – my ancestors – who decided to take a chance.

I happen to believe that one of the many things we need in this country are major prison reforms. I also believe in second, and sometimes even third chances. If what I believe is to mean anything, I have to live up to my own standards. Just as I cannot give up on rooting for prisoners who are desperately trying to succeed, I cannot give up on America because I don’t like one man. It may require a significant amount of self-control, but I will give him some time. Perhaps – somehow – some good will ultimately come from this.

Since the Vietnam War, our country has been dissatisfied with presidents. I cite the Vietnam era because I was a child growing up in the 60’s then. I really can’t address what it was like for presidential terms prior to that time. I have memories of war protesters, and flower children campaigning for peace and love. I remember prejudice and hatred and riots. I had thought that we, the people, had finally gotten past all that hatred and anger, but it seems this election has brought it to the forefront of our country once again.

There is one powerful thing we still have as a country, though. It is our belief in freedom – most especially, freedom of speech. No matter how strongly we may disagree with each other, we retain the right to continue to disagree and to speak about it.

Tonight (having had the entire day to process the results of this election) it is my hope and prayer that, as our country treads new ground, we renew an appreciation for freedom and equality. I pray that all of us in this country really begin now to unite and work toward the real democracy for which we stand. But we will truly have to work at it. We must realize our own value, and that of our neighbor – differences and all. We need to respect one another. If we value honesty and decency, we need to stand up for those things. Our goal should be a common ground that will be a testimony to freedom and decency, as well as an example and a legacy to and for our children. There is much to do…and the time to begin is now.

Peaceful Revolution

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. I remember discrimination, war, assassinations, and riots. Somehow, through all of it, I had thought we, as a country, had gotten past all the hatred, anger, and fear. For me, those years were impressionable years where emotions ran high and sorrow and loss seemed to affect everyone in similar ways. Yet, I look around me today and I see worse than I remember from back then.

To be fair, young people today didn’t experience those times. Youth growing up today have witnessed a culture of violence where heroes of movies seem to be those who are most destructive, not save-the-day heroes like Superman or The Lone Ranger. Video games are not worth buying if they don’t include sex, explosions, or some ghoulish aberration like skulls to flaunt. Hatred and intolerance surround us once again, but now we have expanded our discriminatory tendencies to gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals.

When will it all stop? I do not see more hatred and more anger as being solutions. Okay, I admit it:  I also grew up when hippies spoke out for peace and love. It was, in my opinion, a far better way to live, and a far better time in which to live. If history truly repeats itself, I’m hoping and praying for a peaceful revolution where peace, love and non-violence reign.

Peace…love…harmony…. Can’t we all just get along??? I long for that day.

EXPECTATIONS

My observation to share with you today is that expectations can change a life. If your reaction to this statement is disbelief, simply think about it. Words alone can empower a person, or defeat them. I bet every one of you remember at least one comment that was made while you were growing up. It may have been something like, “You’re fat,” or, “How I wish you could be more like ____ (fill in the blank).” Worse yet, “You’ll never amount to anything!” These, often cruel, taunts (often by peers) remain with us for life. They surface when we are tired, depressed, or feeling defeated. From somewhere deep inside, we can hear a little voice from the past reminding us that we are still that same person. When we hear negatives like the comments above, especially when we hear them again and again, we begin to believe it to be true. We begin to believe the worst about ourselves.

Again, think back. If you were fortunate enough to have someone in your life who encouraged you, who spoke positive things about you, aren’t those the voices you want to remember when life seems at its worst? It doesn’t matter what color you are – this is a universal truth, the world over.

It is my opinion that there is a huge need within the prison system for a focus on rehabilitation. Too often, I hear comments like “They deserve it” or “Just throw away the key.” Sadly, people often live up to our expectations of them. If we constantly expect the worse, too often that is exactly what we receive. There are some, unfortunately, who won’t allow themselves to receive good things. But I urge you to keep encouraging them. Human nature responds to encouragement. Through our words alone, we have the power to make the world a much better place. Let us use that power. Today. Today, throw someone a lifeline and save them! It can happen.

WITH PEN WILL TRAVEL

Adversity affects each of us differently. There is no correct or incorrect way to respond to things that happen to us. How we deal with our problems is a reflection of the person we have become.

I have been gone from this blog for much too long. However, for me, I just “shut down” for awhile. There was more energy going out than coming back in, and I gradually curled up into my very own safe cocoon – until, finally, I made a decision.

Not quite yet a year ago, my twelve-year old canine companion was beginning to fail and finally died. Almost six months later, my warm and friendly feline who was sixteen also died. The person who should have been closest to me also failed me. Knowing I had dug myself into a hole, a series of events led to a decision to move – away. Away from sadness, and away from adversity. Not that the distance has taken either out of my life, but it has made things somewhat easier to bear. It has allowed me to think. It has made it helped me to move forward.

Not all of us respond similarly. Some respond with anger and never move beyond that point, pushing everyone they meet away. Others cry uncontrollably and live much of the rest of their lives as victims, defeated. I refuse to live a life of anger – it only reaps greater adversity. While I may still shed some tears as time goes on, I will not be a victim. I am taking my power back with the written word – a magnificent privilege in which I have always believed.

I would like to take this moment to thank my closest friends and relatives for their support and understanding as I have worked my way through this transition. I know that my solution may not be what you may have chosen, but know that – at least for now – it was the right one for me. The wonderful thing about this world in which we live is that we CAN change things. We CAN allow ourselves to CHANGE. We have only NOW. Let us live the rest of our lives strongly, formidably, and without regrets. Let us appreciate the gift of life. Let us use the talents we have been given.

Seventy Times Seven

I have been both awed and uplifted by the response of the Mother Emmanuel Church community in South Carolina. Their strongly professed attitudes of forgiveness are different and surprising and wonderfully refreshing.

In contrast, I awoke this morning to a radio interview with author Roxanne Gay. She stated that “some crimes are beyond forgiveness.” She also said that she did not believe it is our job to forgive. Well, as I recall, that is not what Jesus said (Matt. 18:21-22). She stated that she would not commit a similarly devastating deed. Does that take away the need for forgiveness, the mandate to forgive? I don’t think so.

While I am saddened by Ms. Gay’s attitude, as well as that of hatemongers in today’s world, I am comforted in knowing that I believe in a God Who does not stipulate which things He does and does not forgive. My respect and prayers go out to the Charleston community.

New Beginnings

I was at my desk early one morning. I paused for a moment from what I was writing to gaze outside. Suddenly I saw a flash of red. Although we often are unable to spot them, several cardinals frequent our neighborhood. This particular male cardinal poked around on the ground for a few moments, hopped about the branches of a small bush, flew to the fence – stopping briefly as if to assess where he was going next – and then he was gone.

I, too, was assessing my plan for the day. Having allowed too much stress in my life of late, I knew I needed to regroup. I had tasks I’d put off for some time. Now a good time to tackle them, I thought. I needed a sense of accomplishment, and I needed to feel peaceful again.

This morning when I parted the curtains, one of the first things I noticed was that the growing buds had finally burst beyond capacity, and, without fanfare, tiny new leaves had taken their place. Squirrels had become playful and very active. Daffodils and tulip leaves had popped above ground. Color was increasing, and birds had become downright noisy.

Yes, my time for renewal had begun as well – a fresh slate, new directions, new goals. It was all good.

How can anyone NOT enjoy spring? To me, spring is a time for renewal, hope, and redirection…time to complete old projects and begin new ones. It is no wonder that spring has always been my most favorite of seasons! Now I was ready to dig in!

Where Are Our Heroes?

I vividly remember growing up in the sixties. It was a very cool time – with peace movements, love, and flower power, but it was an awakening for me, as well, with protests and leading figures that fought against discrimination. I remember Martin Luther King, Jr., Black Power, the 1967 riots in Detroit, and stories about Rosa Parks and segregated lunch counters.

One of my cousins married a black girl. It caused such furor within our Polish family that my cousin and his new wife moved to Hawaii, where mixed-race couples were less of an anomaly.  I attended an all-white parochial school. Our first black student arrived when I was in high school…the school was then able to claim it was integrated.

I recall being appalled at the way people treated people – just because their skin was a different color. I became drawn to the underdog. Great changes happened in the sixties. Naively – and most unfortunately – I only thought the world had gotten better.

Sadly, today I am seeing more discrimination. It is being expressed in ways than I never dreamed of as a teen. Bullying. Homosexuality. Transgender bias. Racial discrimination. Human trafficking. The death penalty. Abortion. Even religious intolerance and extreme measures of persecution. Huge disregard for the wonders of life. How did our world get to this place?!!

Where are our leaders? To whom can we look for inspiration, or to know right from wrong? My growing cynicism tells me it isn’t Congress. Television seems to have placed its focus on sex, off-color attempts at humor, and show after show of “reality” TV.  Whatever happened to the television characters and movie stars we used to see as heroes and role models? I think they are very hard to find these days.

Daily experience shows me that many operate on principles of materialism – money, possessions, power. Inequity is everywhere. “Keeping the faith” has become harder and harder to do in this material world.

My growing focus on prison ministry has allowed me to discover my own small way of making a difference. Weekly, I see men struggling to grow in an impervious environment, and in an outdated system where punishment and control are the only rules. There is little leadership to make an effort to actually HELP these men and women learn to cope as the law-abiding citizens we hope they will one day be. They learn few job skills. Instead, the crushing thumb of the Department of Corrections smashes them down time and again, charging them with ridiculous penalties for ridiculously inane behaviors that only someone with a need for exercising control would feel compelled to address.

Where indeed are the heroes?

Strange as it might sound, my heroes have become the prisoners I meet each week. There, I observe and interact with men who are attempting to grow, change, and to get along with one another. They are bolstered by having a “safe” place to meet once a week, and to worship in their own way, encouraged by volunteers who come weekly. Through these prisoners, and simply by entering prison gates, I see how a perceived need for control, the need to judge, and suppression in all manner of forms affects these men. The effects of discrimination and control is often apparent. But, as these mean approach their release dates, it is also heartwarming how they work through adversity that has become their norm. I often find myself silently applauding  them and am encouraged by what I see. (It is regrettable that the prisons’ plans never seem to focus on rehabilitation from the outset. Were that the case, I believe there would be many more success stories, and far less recidivism.)

Also, as we read and discuss various books of the bible each week, I have been reminded that Paul was once a prisoner, too. On those days, I take a closer look at each prisoner I meet….

On Potential, Power, and Making a Difference

I want so much to make a difference in this world! Yet, I feel I fail time and time again to reach my full potential.

I have reached the age where more of my life is behind me than in front of me. The days are flying past at a pace beyond anything I have previously known.

Nonetheless, I remain in awe of this spectacular world God has given us. We – His greatest achievement – are thinking, feeling human beings, not one of us identical to another. He paints sunrises and sunsets for us daily, and they are breathtaking and inspiring. The vast array of creatures on land and in the sea leave wonder in their wake. Even plant life and microorganisms are incredible to behold.

Sadly, many of us go about our daily lives barely recognizing these gifts. We, as a human race, have laid waste to so much beauty around us! We fail to recognize the good, and are often negligent in how we nurture it if we do. The same applies to talents we have been given.

Sometimes I think about the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. When George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) realizes how the world he knows would have played out without him, it makes one pause. The movie shows what a difference his very presence made in so many lives! I want to be that kind of person.

My resolve is to wake each morning that remains to me, give thanks for this very wonderful gift of life, and seek to make a difference each and every day – somehow, somewhere. It may be a miniscule effort. No one may notice. But I want to act in such a way that, had I not, something would be amiss.

I may never get to read all of the books I would like to read, or visit all of the places I would like to see, but if I begin each new day with this resolve, and make some small difference in the world by something that I am able to say or do, then I believe my life will have been worth living. Special talent isn’t needed to be kind and helpful. But each of us is special. Let us use that uniqueness positively and powerfully. No matter who you are, prisoner or president, YOU can make a difference!

Seeking a Joyful Heart

Retirement is great! After working forty years, I now have the opportunity to choose to do that which I want to do. Even then, I can still decline if something doesn’t meet my expections – that was never an option while I was working. The problem now is finding the time to take advantage of all those opportunities! Whenever I am asked if I am working, I tell that person that I am “blissfully retired.”

With that status, however, comes a further obligation…and that is keeping up with what I’ve committed to do. Too often I have discovered that it is quite easy to slack off. Worse, when you already know you’re a procrastinator. When I get behind, I begin to feel pressured, frustrated, annoyed, impatient. These are times when it becomes easier to snap at someone who has no knowledge of my situation.

Today I am resolving (once again, as I attempt to organize my desk for the umpteenth time) to keep up with my commitments. Since I am doing things I want to do, staying on top of those things should be my joy.

Father, help me to commit to keep up with my daily, weekly, and monthly obligations, and to do so with a joyful heart. Help me to honor You by always being ready for whatever You send my way.

 “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways….” (Prov 23:26)